Convicted beggar fined for indecent behaviour

editorial image

A former soldier turned street beggar - who despite his pestering of people for money on the streets of towns like Coleraine has attracted a considerable amount of sympathy from the public - has been back in court and fined £75 for indecent behaviour at one of his old haunts.

Alec Getty (61), of Trinity Drive in Ballymoney’s Glebeside estate, appeared at Coleraine Magistrates Court on Thursday and was fined £75 after pleading guilty to an offence of indecent behaviour in a public place - Coleraine’s Railway Place - on July 11 last year.

He was also ordered to pay a £15 offender levy after a person in a taxi spotted him urinating at 7.30pm outside Ladbrokes bookmakers and when he did it again a photo was taken and Getty was confronted.

A defence lawyer said everyone knows Alec and not many people were around and although the defendant usually uses station toilets and goes in and out of the bookies he “took short” on this occasion and urinated up against a wall.

The court heard it was alleged by a member of the public that Getty urinates all the time in the area but the defence lawyer said if that was the case he would be up in court on a more regular basis.

Railway Place is an area where Getty has begged in the past and the date of the indecent behaviour offence pre-dated his court appearance in September 2015 for begging.

At that time, the district judge said he would adjourn sentencing for six months to see if Getty could resist begging for money from passers-by but warned him it was his “last chance” regarding begging.

Getty is due back in court again in March for an update.

After the September court case a Ballymoney councillor said the vast majority of people in the home town of ex-UDR soldier Getty - who had turned to begging on the streets for money to fund his addiction to lottery scratch cards - wanted to see him getting help rather than being jailed.

Following the September court appearance there has been a huge public reaction. An #istandwithalec hashtag even sprang up on Facebook and Ballymoney Ulster Unionist councillor Darryl Wilson said there had been an outpouring of sympathy for Alec.

At the time he said: “I am quite annoyed that a jail sentence is being suggested for a local ex-serviceman who has a gambling addiction and mental health issues.

“More should be done to assist those who served their country in Operation Banner and other conflicts rather than attempting to lock away those who we all owe a huge debt of gratitude to.”

Mr Wilson said he has been in touch with the Royal British Legion to see if they could help Getty and he also contacted ex-serviceman and new Ulster Unionist MLA Andy Allen about the matter.

Added the councillor: “We should be trying to help people with problems like this especially ex-servicemen. He was in the UDR through a tempestuous time in our country’s history.

“Alec is harmless and despite what was said in court he never asks people for more than ten or twenty pence and maybe a pound at the most. I would like to see him getting help rather than being put on the scrap heap through jail and I think that would be echoed by the vast majority of people in Ballymoney

“He is loved my many people and most see no harm in him.”

Getty is believed to be the only person repeatedly convicted of street begging in recent years in Northern Ireland under a 168-year-old vagrancy law.

In a press interview in September he claimed he would not be pestering passers-by for cash any more because he fears going to jail.

He was intimidated out of his home because of a threat while doing the job during the Troubles and although he continued in the role for another five years he left because his “nerves were bad”.

He hasn’t worked since and in recent years an addiction to buying scratch cards sent him into a spiral and he resorted to begging on the streets of places like Coleraine.

Although convicted of begging several times, Alec is not a down-and-out and he lives alone in a modest small ground floor flat in a two-storey block.

For several years - almost like a day job - he travelled the eight miles to Coleraine where he was a regular face on the streets, particularly around the busy railway/bus station, before returning home in the evening.

After his court case there were local media reports in the Ballymena and Antrim areas that Getty was begging again.

Although some people see him as a relatively harmless figure whose requests for small amounts of cash from passers-by can easily be dismissed, for others his begging has been a problem.

Previous court cases heard how some children were frightened of him and in another incident a woman had to be rescued from a cafe in Coleraine after being scared into taking refuge from him by claiming he forced her to hand over a tenner.

He is one of the best known people in the Ballymoney and Coleraine areas and news of his court appearance in September quickly became a top story on the Times’ website.

Many people view him as a figure of fun and young people have videoed him and posted it on You Tube with one clip having over 16,000 views while others have made up fake social media accounts in his name.

Although difficulties with alcohol were mentioned in court before, he says he doesn’t drink alcohol now but does have a liking for coke and he smokes a lot.

In September, Coleraine District Judge Liam McNally - who has dealt with Getty several times - said he would not jail him for begging because of the “inordinate” cost to the public purse but warned him it was his “last chance”.

In July the judge told him to get help for a scratch card gambling addiction.

Judge McNally said he would defer sentencing for six months and if there was any re-offending of a similar nature the defendant would go to jail for two months - one month for the current begging offence and a month for a suspended sentence for a similar matter.

After the court in September, Alec said: “I am worried about going to jail, I don’t want to go to jail and will not be begging again. When I look back at what I did I sort of feel disappointed what I did. I am going to do every thing I can to make sure I don’t go to jail and I don’t want to be in prison over Christmas.”

“I did my begging in Coleraine but although I still go there I don’t beg any more. I am determined not to go to jail.”